Tuesday, August 16, 2005

When turning 23 is a good thing.

Some people think I wait long periods before each blog so that my 'Comments' count touches double digits. That's really not true. Though I think that might be a nice idea :)

I've been wanting to talk about these few people in my life for quite awhile. Since my birthday on June 4th to be precise. I procrastinated for as much as I could, then declared to myself that I would do it on Friendship day ( the day otherwise holds as much meaning to me as Valentine day does- sub-zero levels, really).

Among life's many unexplained things is the concept of friendship. As we get older and more mature, it's been increasingly difficult to find people who match your wavelength or simply those who are true to you. Moving from school to college to work and then again to school, I've seen life becoming increasingly complex. Life, and with it relationships. I know I'm landing on sensitive ground when I say this , but in the picture above are my closest and oldest friends- people who remind me how simple life can really be.
It's not like we've always been together- the last we've been in the same city for more than 3 days is in 1999.

We were the group which just fell together in our 11th- half made up of the new comers to school, the other half already the teacher's favorites. The light of our lives were the breaks- the first 10 minute break where we would attack all our lunch boxes with gusto and the second , the real lunch break when we would go around piling on to the others'. If my school then had the close circuit cameras it boasts of now, I'm sure we wouldve spent a many hour explaining flying bits of chappati to Sr.Patrick.

We would go for all the inter school culturals, win some, lose the rest, make our impacts and look forward to the next. Life was as easy as that. As much as it's difficult to believe and as much as I'm glad to be sitting on an wooden cot, back then, someone had to teach me what jealousy or envy or bitching was. We looked at other troubled relationships and wondered what the fuss was all about. They lost their voices campaigning for me to be the School pupil leader and we gained ground to be one of the most popular gangs in school ever. Even this year, when a few of us went back to school, the teachers fondly asked us about 'our gang'- they were thrilled to know we had kept in touch and are as close today as back then.

I'm not sure if going away to college was a lean phase. The six of us were in five different colleges and I was the one the farthest and, in many senses, the luckiest. My friends would write to me- long letters with details on which colleges our ex crushes had joined and which ones our classmates were in. Now when I read through the carefully saved up letters continued over several days, I dont even remember the characters we discussed with such rigour. The letter -writing phase soon reached a sad end. It was the email era- where we displaced an art that would never be found again. We soon became quite involved in our own lives and colleges. During my vacations at home we would meet up in my house, share space on my bed and come up with everything we could remember that had gone by. The sad, the good , the bad and the miserable of it. And then came the jobs.

Worklife was in a way the light at the end of the tunnel. After four long years we were back. Four of us in the same city of Chennai. Weekend shopping trips, walks along the beach and scrambles over beachside delicacies. We would stay over with each other for the weekends and bring back our school days.

The best part of all this is there's nothing compelling about this relationship. It's simply uncomplicated. For me my best friends are those I can meet up with after months, put up our feet together in the air and fight childishly over maggi like six years had never passed between us. It's about how smoothly our conversations have moved from who the next prank call was for to what to wear for the first of our weddings. It's when our lives merge seamlessly over the miles - and the smiles and the giggles are just the same as years before. It's when each person is so unique and special that we miss them rightaway when they aren't around- or even when they are sleeping while we are busy in conversation. It's such a heartening feeling to know that you dont have to take any effort to keep this going- if it has lasted this long, it will last forever.

This birthday was very special to me. After 6 years I was getting to spend it with my closest buddies. I think that if a li'l persuasion could get them to board trains, take a day's leave and come over to celebrate my birthday, then I must be a special person. And we surely have something nice going. So on the Fourth of June at 12 midnite, there was a familar sight. There was food flying in the air and we were scrambling for cake. In a few minutes we were sharing space , sprawled out on one small bed, licking the icing off our fingers, pondering over whether the cake and tomato all over our faces would make a good facial. I closed my eyes, smiled a silent smile and wished myself a happy birthday. There was simply no better way to turn 23.

Later that afternoon , we went to a studio and got this picture taken. One of the biggest travails we have gone through as a group was to select the best picture out of fifteen- considering there were some of us who just couldnt keep our eyes open or smile right (that's me). More than anything, God, I thank you for having got us through that one :)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Back to school

It was always super fun going back to school after the long annual vacation- the eagerness of donning the crispy new uniform, the suspense of who the class teacher is going to be, the fun of reading through all the stories in your brand-new English book, sizing up the new students and getting confused to where your new class is. Some days ago I got back to school, only this time it was a wee bit different.

Everytime something new happens in my life and I'm taking it in all by myself, there are a zillion thoughts which run through my mind. There's this inherent feeling that I'm going to be looking back at these days with nostalgia someday so we want to take as much as of it in as possible. You try to remember the dress you were wearing, the taxi ride and your first sight of college. Well, frankly, the first time I was driven into XLRI, I totally missed the gates with the big golden sign- the one with the edges hidden by neatly trimmed pale green bushes. So much for dramatic beginnings.

Every thing here in Jamshedpur brings back memories of my undergrad days in Pilani. Every single thing. As much as I try to make this a whole new experience for myself and not act like a forlorn lover on the rebound ( we are talking about my ex-college here) it all just comes right back. The way I first entered my hostel and saw the water cooler - the last time I'd got water from such a contraption was in BITS. The newly white washed double rooms- the fond memories of unpacking and then sleeping in the newly done up room. The bathrooms- the swanky white tiles and the struggle to hang the extra towel on the door handle. The mess- the plates with exactly the same 6 depressions of various sizes. Even the dal tastes the same. A small pang in my heart when I see 'Veg Maggi' on the cafeteria menu. Another when I try to put on my fake northie accent and say "garam paani, bhaiyya''.

There are differences, some of which I like. It's nice having few people in your batch. It's nice to know most of your batchmates by name. It's nice to know everyone in your hostel in ten days. It's nice to have professors who recognise you already. It's not so nice to have aloo for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday.

But you warm up to this place easily. The small campus is cozy and the fact that you bump into people you know makes you feel like you've been here forever. The 'family' thing these people so talk about is true- trust me. In three weeks I'm sitting in my room, reviving my old forgotten blog, messaging my buddy, making faces at my roommate and bugging her like I've known her my entire life. The weekend's welcoming us with open arms and we're making plans like girls from the Malory Towers. Within a week of classes we are swamped with work and deadlines a few hours of reading, project preparing and assignment discussions- much like the dizzy world I escaped from , but with a lot more excitement and fun added to it. Most laptops and PCs are busy typing out 'submissiles' - while I'm staring at this blog.

In a silent moment the other day, I looked outsidethe window and reflected. There's something about the old times which will never be back. The fun of bumping into your latest crush when checking your mail at the lab. The million people you say hi to when hunting for your best friend. The old world charm of the men waiting outside the hostel to call you. But life's changed since. And I think I'm beginning to like it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

That thing called Culture

There's an auto stand at the end of my road and it's the end everyone loves to avoid. People are constantly urinating there, mostly the auto drivers. This week the Association came up with a solution. Two big pictures of Lord Ganesha were stuck up there. Just as expected, now that end is a mini temple. The Great Indian Culture!

The topic of Indian culture came up very often when I was rallying for my brother's inter-race wedding. Everyone in the family was so worried about how the 'culture' would be burnt away. So I paused to think - how much of the culture are we following anyway?

I'm not particularly proud of the culture that frowns at the birth of a girl child. Or even worse, kills it by smothering it. Our's is the culture which doesnt educate the girl child and marries her off before she reaches the waist of her mother. When she has to get married, along with her goes tons of gold, almirahs, cars, documents of ownership for land and a house. Maybe the earlier events happen only in rural areas and in uneducated families but dont you even dare and deny me the existence of dowry even in the richest families. Worry not, if you are male, from either a Malayalee Christian/ Telugu family and reading this from Bush's kingdom, you are easily worth atleast fifty lakhs. That's Five Million, darlings.

We are also the great culture which has divided us into a few zillion castes and subcastes. We practised untouchabitlity and sometimes still do. Our ancestors did not even allow the lower caste women to cover their chests. Even today, I hear noon meal scheme has been stopped in Bihar because it is being cooked by Dalits. Dont even get me started about the Babri masjid or the Godhra or the Coimbatore Bomb Blasts (something I saw from up close). Maybe that's something that happens only with the fanatics. But would your parents gladly let you marry a Muslim if you a Hindu or vice-versa?

In our culture men and women marry the people their parents choose or in some cases force down their throats.
Your parents wouldve told you that arranged marriages work and that's why India has a lower rate of divorces. Totally Mistaken.
In our country many men and women grit their teeth and tolerate the torture called marriage. All for the sake of their parents, their children and of course, their society. And also because they arent independant- which is again because they werent educated. Divorce is totally taboo, even if you'd be better off without your alcoholic, wife- abusing excuse for a husband. So take a second and count all your aunts, uncles, cousins, mausis, attimbers, periappas and chittis who are stuck in bad marriages and there - we have the real divorce rate of India.

We are the country who came up with Kama Sutra and the most sexy garment ever- the Saree. But while men can urinate in public, you cant even kiss.
We are the people with the horoscopes, the thousand gods and godesses and the Vaasthu shastra. But while the rich get richer, the poor get children.

I do like a lot of things in our culture but i think we just practise as much as anybody else in any other country does with their own. I like the way we respect people, books, animals and even our dvd players. I like the way we keep our parents with us when they grow older. I like the way we wait till marriage before living together.

Of course there are exceptions to everything here. But I'm only making a small point. What is it that impressive in our culture that we easily put down other cultures?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The final journey

I met her for the first time about a year ago. She is my cousin's wife- 41 years of age. I vaguely remember telling her that she is the only member of the family who has been in the family ever since I can remember, but somehow never got to meet.

I hate funerals. And this is precisely why I avoid them like crazy.

It's been 44 days since she died. Noone is clear how, it's either an asthma attack or a heart attack that killed her. She was working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia. She apparently lives right across the hospital , yet, died at its doorstep before anything could be done. My cousin was about 500 miles away at the time.
The Saudi government wouldnt allow to cremate her there. They took 44 painful days to clear her papers and send her in a aluminium coffin filled with cotton and saw dust. She is a Catholic but her church in Kerala wouldnt bury her since she had married a Hindu. So she was to take her final journey from my grandfather's house.

When a person dies, there is immense grief, there are thoughts rushing into your head and you just want to cry looking at the lifeless body. But what would happen if the body comes after 44 days? Is the grief still there? Is it a little lesser since the person's time on earth is extended a little? or is it more?

The van had not arrived yet from the airport. People had started streaming in. Passers-by looked at the bright red shamiana and peeked in, expecting to see gaiety and finding none. I stood in the hall looking at the different faces seeing how many I could identify. Noone seemed like they were here for a funeral. Impending weddings were being discussed as were childbirths and new houses.
Someone announced that the van would be arriving in a few minutes - a call had been recieved. Before the message reached the ears of everyone in the house I could see a white van stalling at the gate. It backed into the gate with a shrilling tone of Jingle Bells. My cousin and his daughter got off, followed by three other people. Someone then lowered the coffin to the wide bench kept for it.

How soon we start calling a person 'it'. It doesnt take much at all. What should I be doing now? Do I go near the doorstep? Or do I just stay here with the rest of the ladies?
All thoughts went to A~ . She seems calm. Is it because she has already mourned enough over the past month and a half? Or is it because she has never lived with her mom? Would she break down today? Is that what everyone is thinking about?

They opened the coffin slowly and a strong smell overwhelmed me- women hurriedly brought saree ends to their noses and men took a step back. It was formalin , I think. This was what was keeping the rot away.
Someone shouted for scissors and I could see it being returned in a few minutes. I couldnt see much of what was happenning- old ladies pushed their way to the front and all I could see were oiled hair loosely tied in buns of different shapes and sizes. I could see wisps of smoke from a bunch of incense sticks. I couldnt see the plaintain which I imagined they were stuck into. 'Om namo narayana' was playing in the background. The ladies in front of me moved forward and I could suddenly see her lying there. Our second meeting.

I'm having a few million thoughts rush to my mind now. The first of which is to close my eyes and just dissappear from this scene. The incense smell is too much - too unnatural. Like some smells remind you of some events, this one is also rushing in memories. Like ten years back, the last time I'd confronted the death of someone so closely. The image of the day still so clear. Come back, girl. You are much older now. You havent shed a tear for people you have known even more. Why would you get affected for this? I'm bang in the midst of so much of grief, so much of tears and so much of pain. If I dont feel anything now I wouldnt be human at all.

Two nuns walked in carrying books and their rosaries. Soon we heard them raise their voice in a prayer. Half in English, half in Malayalam. The 'Om namo nama' is turned down in reverence to the religion of the departed soul. There are hushed voices- most noticing the smooth intermingling of the two religions. One she was born with and the other she married into. Someone was telling how she would devoutly fast on all the Hindu auspicious days and with that more appreciation flows in. The short service is over. The womenfolk move into the house leaving a few of us at the door and the daughter fanning her mother, for the last time. The men were talking in whispers, already wondering when the day will be over.
People walk around the body praying and I join in. We lay some flowers at her feet and pray for her soul. Her sisters place some silks at her feet, their silence at that instant is deafening. The coffin is slowly loaded back into the van . More Jingle Bells.

That was not very difficult. You survived it,beautiful. I hope this is the last funeral I ever have to go to. I hope I die before everyone I care for does. Why should people die? I hope I dont have many sleepless nights.

In an hour there were no others, just family. It was like nothing had happenned. Only the rose petals on the bench had a tale to tell.
My throat was parched and I walked towards the kitchen for some water. Everyone had moved to the bedrooms and bathrooms to have the mandatory bath. I took out a glassful from the pot in the empty kitchen and looked outside the window. Father and daughter were in a tight embrace, far away from the rest of the world. Softly they reassured each other, with wet and swollen faces, how they would be there for one another, for the rest of their lives. I leaned back on the wall, out of their sight, a lone tear escaping my eyes.

Maybe I am human, after all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The belle and the cat

Here's why I prefer cats to dogs- they dont need to be walked, they dont need to be bathed and they have a nice air about themselves.

I've had two cats so far. The first was given to me by a school friend. We lived in an apartment then and I was amazed at how my kitten- Puchoos- was naturally potty trained. Her 'loo' was a flower pot with all mud and no plant. I had her for seven whole years , seven lovely years.
Since Im very allergic, my father sent Puchoos to my native place. Since my neighbours there thought she would harm their baby my grandfather abandoned her more than ten miles away. I cried and cried and didnt speak to my dad and granpa for days together. After 5 days there was a call- Puchoos had found her way back home. Over the years Puchoos became a member of the household- relatives and friends calling from overseas would enquire about her in all their letters and fone calls.

One fine day Puchoos became the proud mother of two kittens. My joy knew no bounds- the whole world got to know of their arrival and as a 12 year old beauty-struck kid, I duly named the two 'Ash' and 'Sush'. After that there were many babies and the names got crazier and crazier from Ina, Mine, Myna, Mo to Coffee and Toffee. The kittens would either run away or be adopted by friends. At that cute age, there would be a frenzy of photography with baskets and flowers and the works- just like in all those greeting cards.
Puchoos died in a road accident in my last year of school. Mom and me didnt believe that she had passed away for a long time- we would look up to the window expecting her to jump in anytime.

After about two years, an orange brown cat waltzed into our lives. She just walked into our home one day and jumped onto my lap like she had been doing it all her life. Puchoos the Second had arrived. She loves to stretch and sleep next to me while I take an afternoon nap, with one paw on my hand, to make sure she doesnt miss Tea. She has also been giving us a steady supply of kittens- and their names have become slightly more creative ( Previous two - Laddoo and Jalebi ).
Two weeks back Puchoos gave birth to her latest litter. I thought I'll name the two kittens after the Mallu comedy serial my family watches everyday- Indumukhi and Chandramathi. Then I saw the third kitten.
So now i'm looking for some nice innovative names for the three. Feel free to drop in your ideas.
The best set of three names will get... well, of course, you'll get the satisfaction of having named three cute kittens not to mention us calling these names everyday. I'll even upload their snap with the winner's name next to it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

It's in the stars.

It's been a really really long time since I hit the 'Create post ' button.
I've always been very amused with astrology. I have had late night discussion with friends, cousins and family and have, most of the time, totally stripped it of any credibility. Couples knotted in marraige after heavy horoscope matching are resorting to things from wife-beating to mutual seperation .Those predicted with dire consequences if they married are living quite happily.
And when we ask the astrologers for an explanation when a whole family dies, they tell us something like the planets are all aligned in one row, indicating catastrophe - but that of course cannot be predicted by the horoscope. What's the whole point if you cant predict something as disastrous as that!
To add to that there is the constant shift of residences by the various planets, whose effect you have to nullify by a few million poojas and yagnas.

More than a year back, my mother did what is a routine yearly thing for most families. The horoscopes all came out and took a journey to the astrologer. The guy took one look at mine and declared that I would study. My mom gently interrupted him to tell him that I am working. He shut her up, saying that there are no working stars for me now and I would only study further. There was simply no doubt about it.
That night, with my mom on the fone, I had a hearty laugh. I was working with a software firm and didnt have any plans of moving out.

A few months later, I quit my job and moved to my hometown. I has simply hated my job and realised I was going nowhere with it. I couldve done that job after standard 10. I quit with plans of helping my dad in the business and moving on from there. On the way I took some classes for MBA entrance exams.

Two days back, the XLRI website told me that I'm selected for their PMIR course. It's a premier institute and I'm looking forward to going there in June. This afternoon the topic of astrology came up and my mom reminded me of the astrologer. My face contorted into a hundred expressions. I didnt want to give in to the prediction but thinking of it now, for the first time after more than a year, it seemed incredible that he could predict such a thing. After all, it was something even I had no inkling of.

I still havent made up my mind about astrology. It has never ceased to amuse and entertain me.
But do I start believing it? Should I join the journey next time? Where would I draw the line?
Is it my imagination or do i hear someone laughing at me?

Monday, March 07, 2005

For Her

I look with awe at the woman walking the treadmill next to me. Her third day in the gym and she is showing more energy than I am. Her ID card says 50 though her face and appearance dont. She is slightly shorter than me, about 4 or 5 kilos heavier. She is probably the only woman her age in this gym who doesnt need a weight loss program. She wipes off the sweat from her face and reaches for the water bottle, ready to go to the next machine. She catches my eye and I smile at her through the mirror, wondering why I dont resemble her at all. My mom.
Funny, to think of it now. I only got close to my mother after I moved far away from her and left to college. She had tried to the best of her ability to make me stay at home and attend a local college, something I declared I would never do. I screamed and cried and fought and finally got permission to leave home.
After my parents left me at college and went back, I realised what 'homesick' meant. It was those tears which rushed to your eyes when you heard their voice on the fone. It was all the emotions that crushed you when you realised you had just missed their call. (It wasnt the age of the cellfones yet) These sentiments didnt last long though. Probably about two weeks while I got a hang of college and the concept of ragging. Mom would always take the first oppurtunity to send me a letter. She would post it with Homeo medicines, some allergy tablets or with a dd I'd never asked for. I would read them about 15 times and carefully put them away. If she found any known soul taking the trip from Delhi to Pilani, I would get something. Chips, mysorepa, pickles and a letter in her small neat slanted handwriting.
During the holidays I would wake up early just to catch her still cooking in the kitchen, sit on the kitchen counter and narrate all the happennings of the semester that was just over. Exciting happennings, movies, plays, exams, sicknesses and eventually even crushes. I would tell her the stuff that our college days were made of while she kneaded the dough and fried the fish. She was more excited than I was when I left to France for 6 months. I taught her to use Yahoo messenger then and it became our newest and hottest mode of communication. She would be so thrilled with the smileys that chatting with her would be like a fully animated conversation, bringing a smile to my face thousands of miles away. She returned my favor. When I got back from cellfone starved Pilani, she taught her ignorant daughter how to message using the fone and how to send movie song ringtones to her number.
As a young girl, my mother was a famous dancer in Malaysia where she grew up, wearing shorter skirts and hipper styles than I have ever worn in my 22 years. As a result of which, she wanted me to have some artistic inclining. I was given the green signal to pursue many things. Karate, Dance, Music, Ikebana, painting lessons and so on. But sadly, today the only thing I can do well in public is speak. Sometimes I do feel I let her down, atleast for her sake I shouldve learnt to dance . Dance well, that is.
I have very little barriers of what to discuss with my mother. Last week, I was telling her about how some pubs in Bangalore have strippers for women's day and how much fun it would be to go see. Her motherly act lasted a few seconds, and that too only in her eyes. Soon we were both cribbing about why our home city has no nightlife. Given a choice between my mom and one of my close friends, I would take my mom out for a wild night, anyday.
To the rest of the world she is the disciplining mom. To me, she's happy that I've found the person I want to marry. She is secretly even happier that atleast he has some artistic inclinations. When my brother decided that he wants to marry his American girlfriend, he told my mom first. For she just wouldnt say no. Today she's gleefully submerging herself in wedding plans announcing loudly to her friends that her kids have minds of their own and that she's terribly proud of it.
She did join the gym for me, to give me company. Today I counted three friends I had made there, which included two guys who asked me if I was in school. My mom's tally is 8 and still growing. At this rate, i will soon be known as ' her daughter'. Not that I really mind.
She taught me how to dress, today I'm her self appointed fashion consultant. She taught me to write but it's me who writes up and dramatizes all her club speeches. There are somethings you can give back and there are some you cant even come close to. I only hope that when it's my turn, I do atleast half the good job that she is doing. Love you mom.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

So, where are You from?

There is no question which has baffled me more than this one. My answers to this question usually varies depending on various factors :- my geographical location at the time, the profile of the questioner, the occasion,what I am doing at the time and my mood besides other things.
For I, having been born a Malaysian citizen, of Indian origin, with roots in Kerala but having lived most of my life in Tamilnadu, can surely be very confusing.

Last week, at a college interview, the first question was ' So, what do you have to tell us about Malaysia?' . ' I was just born there' I replied. 'Just born?' the panelist replied and proceeded to ask me questions on the economy and the infrastructure and the political scenario and the landmarks of the muslim country. After replying to all of it, I decided I better clarify before they start grilling me the specifics of the place, which , honestly, I dont know much about. ' I was only there for two months, as a baby' I said . With oh-how-uninteresting smiles, they then moved on to other questions.

School life was quite okay. Being a convent school run by Malayalee nuns, a lot of students were from Kerala and since I was officially admitted as an Indian student, there was hardly a problem. In my gang of 6, though four of us were mallus, we never conversed in Mallu. My mallu skills were confined to home, where we happily adulterated it with a lot of Tamil and English.

During vacation trips to my native place in Kerala, I would be dismissed as a quiet kid. The truth being, I didnt understand many of the words my cousins used, and was quite scared my masala malayalam would be ridiculed.

My Tamil, though,was picking up. Armed with just a year of formal education in the language in my 1st standard( I took Hindi after that), my skills improved .Thanks to the bus boards and the movie posters and of course, Oliyum oliyum movie names. Malayalam script, on the other hand, was as alien as Telugu to me.

Four years at college taught me colloqial Hindi. I am well versed in all words and phrases required to converse with people who cook and serve you food and those who stitch your clothes. But of course, since I have never understood why languages need to assign genders to tables and TVs and dreams and vegetables, my Hindi can be really funny. Telugu words unravelled a bit and slowly the jalebis in their script differed from the murukkus of Malayalam. For people guessing which state I was from, the guesses always ranged from Gujarat and other Northern states as their first choice to Tamil Brahmin as their second (they are such a famous breed, I think they deserve a state!).

I was part of the Malayalee club in college, called Kairali. The meetings left me with a comfy feeling, being able to listen to Malayalam being spoken so many miles away from home. But I was still shy of my mallu and would only speak back in English. I watched Tamil movies and plays and would even consider auditioning for it. But I have only seen half a malayalam movie in BITS and preferred to stay away from mallu skits and dances. Though I did turn up to serve for the mallu feasts in off-white gold bordered sarees.

My Mom and Dad speak excellent Tamil. My Dad can even speak like a typical Tam Brahm and with his name noone would doubt him. They then hope the mallu channels show the movie name for more than a minute because they cant read it soon enough. My brother's Tamil is as bad as his Malayalam but given a choice he'd pick Tamil. Our 500 book-strong library has four books in Tamil including 'Bharathiyar Kavithaigal' ( Poems of Bharathiyar) . Zero books in Malayalam. The first and only recipe book I bought , though, is ' The Essential Kerala cookbook'. None of us can understand the Malayalam news and we google when we are asked for the meaning of the mallu lyrics in ' Jiya jale jaan jale..'

When travelling abroad, we often simplify things and say we are malayalees from Kerala when in the company of true blue foreigners. It is just too complex to explain where we stay and where we belong to. Besides they often seem to know about the beautiful backwaters and we have something to talk about. We thank God for not giving us the mallu accent and when people say ' Malayalees are Kolayalees ( murderers)' , we smile and speak about how long we have lived in Tamilnadu that we are almost Tamilians. But of course, when people speak about how beautiful mallu women are or how amazing the mallu cuisine is, let me remind you that my grand uncle was the Diwan of Cochin and I am as Malayalee as anyone can get.

My parents did try and make sure I learnt a few alphabets in Malayalam and it is a language I would want my kids to know. But of course, they would need to learn Tamil too, to understand the stiff, I adulterate their mother tongue with.

Travelling around for interviews last two weeks was good fun. The students would ask me, Where are you from?. Coimbatore. Which college in Coimbatore? . Oh no, I studied in BITS, Pilani. Oooooh ok, So you are a Tamilian?. No, no, I am a Malayalee. Oh! So where are you from?!

Friday, January 28, 2005

Food Fetish :P~~

I'm crazy about good food. Usually, i'm met by raised eyebrows and other such facial contortions when I say that beacuse, well, I'm a kilo or so underweight. But I adore food, even if I'm not a heavy eater, I like the concept of eating. So to say, I live to eat.
I never wanted to learn cooking- coz it was projected as a very feminine thing and at the age of 15, when feminism is at its peak, you only want to rebel. That led to me wanting to marry a French chef. French beacuse I'd read somewhere that the French are the most romantic, also because I'd always wanted to go to France. Chef because, like I said before, I didnt want to cook.
A picture of Eiffel on my desk, French perfume in the air and French fries on the side. My dream was complete. As luck would have it, about 5 years later, I did go to France. And ironically had to learn cooking to even survive there.
An Indian would never call France the food capital. For me the meat was nauseating, the wines all tasted the same and the baguettes resembled weapons. And French men werent too inviting either ( maybe it was my brilliant French knowledge). I was forced into the kitchen armed with packets of home packed masalas and a few pages of recipes.
Frankly, I turned out to be quite good at it. For the records there was not a single dish which was inedible that i had cooked. Cooking slowly began to delight me- I'd cook when I was lonely or depressed , when I wanted to surprise my tired roommate or simply when I felt creative. Our menus were always simple, chocolate croissants microwaved for exactly 12 seconds for breakfast. Rice/bread/ tortillas with sardine or mushroom curry for dinner. Sometimes we would feel guilty of devouring so many members of the sea kingdom and make some vegetables.

Sundays were days of experimentation. We would cook sambar and rasam ( from the recipe booklet) and try out different recipes from internet printouts- which we would faithfully use the office resources for. There were several nice discoveries on our journey-Chicken 75, coconut mushroom sambal and woodchop ( a very unique frozen dessert). One total disaster was Gobi manchurian. Well, to put it nicely we couldve supplied some to replenish the dwindling glue supplies at our local post office. when I left France, my friends gifted me a lovely book on 'Desserts'. I flip through it very often- to drool at the pictures.

Back in India, when i was working in Chennai, i got back to the cooking routine, but things changed because there was no microwave and ofcourse no sardine tins. So I turned into a veggie at home and my cooking turned less experimentative. Though there is one particular session my theatre pals love to remeber even today.
It was a pot luck dinner and me and my roommate decided to take Gulab jamuns. We bought the mix, and set out with making the dough. We rolled it out into small cute balls with all the experience of doing the same for chappatis. We fried them and made the sugar syrup. Heated the syrup till it became a little viscous and dropped the jamuns into it. We then waited for a while and put it into the fridge. We mustve gone wrong somehwre coz in a few minutes the syrup had crystallised. we took the dish out and analysed the situation. Maybe the syrup had become too thick. We started digging out the jamun. Well, it was really digging beacuse there had been a fair amount of solidification. The jamuns came out with sugary deposits all around it.. so we, ummmm... well.... washed each with tap water. May I remind you here that tap water in Chennai is as salty as sea water. Now to offset the salty taste we dropped the jamun balls in mineral water. And carried it to the party. What followed at the party ranged from wild shrieks of laughter to discussions on how our poor jamuns could be used as ammunition. Last I heard was that my play director was describing my jamuns to some Slovenian friends of his- almost 2 yrs after the incident.
Over the last few years I've tasted many cuisines ranging from Mexican, Lebanese, Italian, German, French, Chinese, Thai, Malay, Baba nyonya ( a very special Malaysian variety), Turkish, Pakistani and many others. The following are some of my all time favorite foods- in random order. Also includes some which I have tasted just once.
*Raw mango with chilli powder
*Belgian chocolates
*Pal Payasam
*Matthi Fish fry
*Thin crust pizzas in Italy
*Satay in Malaysia
*Kela Rabdi in BITS
*Chicken Biriyani at a Bhai's shop in Coimbatore
*Fish tikka in most restaurants
*Elaiada- a mallu sweet dish
*Hot doughnuts
*KFC chicken
*Dahi vada in BITS IC
*Hot 'n' Sour chicken soup at a Chinese restaurant in Coimbatore
*Mom's egg rice
*Chilly paneer at C'not, BITS
*Mango Ice cream
*Bread sandwich with ' kaya' - the coconut jam
*Chendol in Malacca
*Cakes with icecream in the centre and on the top
*Tub Tim siam (sweetsoaked chestnuts in coconut milk) at Benjarong, Chennai
*Danish butter biscuits in round blue tins
*Sardine curry
*Little onion samosas
*Curd rice

Hmm, I'm going rumbley in the tumbley...
Till next time...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The cutest babies I've ever set eyes on. The little devils, my twin cousins, Akhilesh and Avaneesh Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

And more...

I had thought a lot about taking my camera for relief work that day. For one thing, I felt it might look like I was being insensitive. I'm not really sure why I felt that way but I guess if I were in that position I wouldve stoned any camera wielder within a 100 metre radius. Besides my camera is quite big and conspicuous and not something you can hide under a dupatta or stuff into a pocket. So my camera stayed at home but instead the organization's camera landed in our hands and we were entrusted to take pictures of the relief work. We took some pictures like I mentioned before but I have no clue to where they are now.
While we were out there talking to the fisherfolks, a white man stopped his motorcycle, and not moving even a step forward he takes out his camera and clicks pictures. While all of us stare, the affected, the unaffected and the stunned. What in the good heavens is he thinking?
Anyway, we scoot back to the 'Home of kits' and get our act going. We form little assembly lines to the push-cart so that we neednt walk with the rice bags. After heaving the blankets and most of the kits on to the cart, we walk to the distribution centre where a crowd has alreday gathered.
We sneaked in and met some of the women's club members who then had almost taken what they thought was full control of the situation. But , well, it was quite some chaos with everyone screaming around. So we brought about some order. Instructed two of the women to sit at the front to collect coupons, so that they feel important. Two more of them to hand us the vessels to fo with each kit , so that their contribution is noticed and appreciated. The rest of us stood in line handing out each a blanket, the food kit, the packet of clothes, the rice bag and then the water sachets.
The ladies in front collected the coupons, cross checked and we helped hand over the material. The men and women came in different lines and for each man, two women in the queue were attended to. The women with children (somehow not one man came with a kid!) were given packs of Cerelac and kid's clothes to go with it.
After about 100 people were dispensed aid stuff, the queue reduced to none and brutally shocked us. All the stories about people fighting for kits, faking coupons, looting packets and barging into the booths had sunk in so well that this lack of recipients of aid just couldnt be digested. But as if to console us, after about 15 minutes, the queue started to form again. apparently the time lag was because many of the workers had just got back from work.
Trouble started when some of the ladies got back to us with complaints. Our fears had come true and unfortunately for us, the fag-end kits with more biscuit packets and no detergents and oil had reached some of them and having compared kits with their neighbours, they were back to demand justice. We politely calmed them down, explained how we were just doing voluntary work and couldnt really find enough of all provisions for each family. We also told them how some families got no clothes, no vessels and no rice packets either and how lucky they were to get atleast those intact. They seemed to understand and retreated but I think all of us wouldve been more happy if the kits had been all similar.
As dusk neared, the queue again dwindled and some women approached us saying that their homes hadnt been covered by the survey. The women's club members were quite reluctant to give them the kits but then , what the heck, it was close to 3 hours since we had been distributing stuff and if the coupon holders still didnt want to collect them, here were more deserving people.
We sneaked them all sorts of stuff which didnt fit into the 200 kits, lotsa clothes, tiger biscuits, the remaining infant food, Lifebouy sachets and all.
As the rations grew increasingly scarce .. we grew increasingly tired. Its really not an easy job. But the satisfaction of even an hour's work with these people is mind blowing. I'm sad i could only contribute so much. The next day I was down with a viral fever I had contracted. Nevertheless, temperature withstanding, the time at relief work was a real eyeopener. An experience I'd love to recount and remember for long. Giving money is 'giving'. Giving time is 'giving and getting'.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


I've never really been in a place like this ever before. We've passed by villages and waved at kids from the train but this is quite a different experience. Once they know you are there from an aid organization everyone is really friendly. But the elders there advise against going close to the huts where the affected live coz they could turn unruly. We really dont believe them but because we had enough work to do with the making of kits and so on, we decided not to go meet them till the next day.
I know its quite odd to say this but our group had quite some fun getting things done. My co-helpers were from a local college and one guy from a software company, also in Chennai. This chap had actually come staright from office- in formals with even the identity card tag hanging around his neck. It was a pleasant sight seeing him with folded up sleeves wishing that he could miss his work and join us the next day too.
We bought 200 plastic bags of all sizes and made kits, containing one piece or particlar measures of each item. Toward the end when rations werent enough we compensated with extra biscuit packets which were in abundance, hoping that the people who got thee kits wouldnt feel so bad.
The most entertaining was the sorting of clothes. To bring in some colour and joy to the otherwise sombre process, we decided to match the boxes of salwar kameezes and also sarees with blouses. Surprisingly the men seemed to be quite good at the task, even hunting for similar coloured dupattas to go with it. We discarded so much of stuff which we thought wouldnt be quite appropriate- terribly torn clothes, pieces of underwear, disco wear and an old negligee with well, not much of cloth in it. We also put the kids wear in diffrently coloured plastic bags depending on the age and sex of the kid. We were quite dissappointed that the distribution couldnt be done the same day. The social workers briefed us on how there couldnt be any sort of aid distribution without a survey and how tokens had to be distributed earlier to each deserving family else the havoc and chaos would be uncontrollable. They recounted how they once took 200 'kudams' in a lorry and on reaching there found just 80. On a curve, the people had very skillfully managed to snatch quite a number of them.
We had done all the kit-sorting in a house there .. when we left, their little home was filled with all colours of plastic bags in all rooms. They seemed quite happy we had chosen to do the work in their house. And finally what the social workers made sense. When we had wondered why we werent doing the sorting at the godown itself, they had told us that the community there wants to get involved, even if it only means watching us.
The next day we all met at around 11 am. Today we had no transport and had to go by the public bus service. It meant taking two buses but we were accompanied by the same sweet ladies so we werent too worried about getting lost. The Chennai heat made the travelling quite tiresome but the little onion samosas, the cucumber with chilly powder and the rest of the lovely sights at the bus stop lift your spirits.
We went to the same cute little house. The baby there was crying quite loudly and wasnt really pacified by the five of us walking into his crawling territory. We checked our supplies, caught hold of a local guy and instructed him to take us to the seaside.
He walked us through mazes of huts. He told us how the surveys to find the families who were really affected had happenned a few days earlier and how a bunch of them had distributed tokens this morning. The people had been instructed to come at around 4.30 and we still had about an hour to visit the place, transfer the kits and set up shop.
Walking through the little huts, you can feel the sea nearing.. the blankness in the sky and the light smell of the Bay of bengal. As we walked closer, a woman came out and pulled at my hand. She asked me in Tamil if I'd come to give coupons to their 'kuppam' or hamlet. I replied saying that I was just here to see the place and that the coupon-givers would be coming a bit later. I wasnt really sure of what I was saying but the stories of the chaos and fights had truly scared me a bit.
From hearing to seeing- we quite literally ran into one of those. One of the area's women's club ladies was there giving coupons on our behalf. Actually they were joining with us to give away vessels. There was a huge crowd around her and we could only see her waving hands. Women were screaming at each other about how the lady who just got the coupon was not one of the affected. " How would you know?" retorted the one clutching the pink coupon.
An excited man pointed at my camera and asked us if we were from the press. 'They take pictures and we never get any help' he said. And with that he made it easy for us. A sprighty young lady led us to the site. We could see thatches lying all over the place. All flattenned out as if they were out for drying. Mangled in it were clothes, books, pieces of metal and memories of a peaceful fishing hamlet. The woman then ran across the thatches and posed, waiting for us to take snaps of her. The men around her instructed her to stand timidly, like someone who has been affected. We didnt want to dissappoint them and took pictures of all of it. These are for our personal use, we told them. But you will be on our list today, we assured them. Everyone was eager to tell us what had happenned. There used to be enough sand for kids to play cricket. And now the sea lashes angrily against a few rocks, having come closer by a few feet.
We can see a few rafts against the sun. some trying to get into the mood for fishing, some trying to get the fish into the mood. The women are still fighting. But there is some hope. The lad with us tells us about Sundarapuram, where the community sense is overwhelming. Every bit of aid inflow is equally divided among all the familes that have been affected. So when we told them we could give 30 kits to their hamlet, they tell us to give all the material for the 30 kits and that they would share them all.
Even in times of despair and disaster, the brawls sadden you. There is a story of a man who sold the 5 kg rice given to him as relief. Stories of the hut-owners parading as the affected while the actual tenants get nothing. In times like this the tales of Sundarapuram give hope.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Notes from my day at Tsunami relief work

I wasnt quite sure of what to expect when i called up Aid India . They told me to just come over and pitch in with whatever help I could offer. I entered what looked like a typical household.. only you couldnt really see the walls of the house coz they were stacked up with all sorts of aid from all corners of the world. Medicine boxes formed most of it while there were also sacks and sacks of what I thot were old clothes.
The organization on the first floor was a flurry of activity and everybody seemed to be too busy to notice there were strangers. I guess that's because when you are together for a reason you simply cannot be a stranger. We were allotted the task of going to Thiruvotriyur and distributing aid. What sounds like a simple job was actually a two day issue. Thiruvotriyur is about 40 minutes away from the office and we had to first proceed to the godown to collect the aid material. Accompanying us were three ladies, chirpy ladies quick to put a smile on your face- all social workers except one , an elderly teacher.
The godown was in a part of Chennai, I'd not even heard about, leave alone pass by. Some philanthropist had donated the use of the godown for a month and it was being used as much as it could be. There were even higher stacks.. and this time the walls alongside it were labelled Oil, biscuits, sarees, mens clothes, kids clothes, rice, dal, washing soap and so on. At the entrance, like a fort wall steel 'kudams' were stacked. We got to work- first checking the list of stuff that needed to be loaded. There were 200 families who had to be helped and enuff material to last them for atleast 2-3 weeks. So we loaded them into a big lorry - packs and packs of Tiger biscuits , Sunola, Rin, Lifebuoy, boxes of sarees and thotfully, a box of donated blouses and inskirts, shirts and pants, baby clothes and to go with it a carton of cerelac and nestum packs. Some mindless soul had given a tin of baby food which had expired 4 years back and had rust all over it. God , give them some brains and knowledge how to use it.
There was a pretty young girl who was sealing packets of rice and dal. She had come all the way from Hyderabad to help out, missing one week of college. When she does it all alone, with no company, you know she doesnt consider this an outing. We then proceeded in the minivan with the lorry following us to the 'affected area' . Only thing, it didnt look so 'affected'.
There is one great thing about Indians. We learn to forget. It was barely 2 weeks since the disaster and here were people moving around like nothing had ever happenned. Or maybe it's just that after seeing so much of video coverage we expect thinsg to be just the same. With people screaming and running, tear-dried faces and saree tents, blaming and cursing the sea gods for their misfortune. But it just wasnt. It probably in our blood to learn to move on. Oy maybe it's just that disasters have become a way of life for us. We had Bhopal and Bombay and Latur and Gujarat and now this. Too soon after each other to let us remeber the older one. Too numbing. We see other countries.. for even a smal percentage of the lives lost here, there is such a huge uproar. Documentries, wars, ground zeroes and memorials. Every year the whole world is forced to remeber 9/11 . Do you remember when the Latur earthquake was? Never mind. Neither do I.

Well, I'm back from the sooper long vacation and one of my new year resolutions is to blog. For those who know me well it must be quite a surprise to learn that I havent blogged yet, but well, well you cant be first all the time ;) Posted by Hello

Im still trying to figure out what im doing Posted by Hello